Going Vegetarian, Successes and Challenges

fall-fruits-and-vegetables

While I don’t consider myself a “foodie,” I do geek out hard to food — new foods, food history, alternative cuisines, cooking shows, cookbooks, and the like. I’ve been known to spend the better part of any given weekend either in the kitchen or online watching cooking videos. This interest in cooking goes many years back when, as a trade off for getting to watch cartoons and monster movies on Saturday, we had to “put up with” art and cooking shows on Sundays. Though I really didn’t mind that at all because I loved watching cooking shows. I loved how someone, in a mere 30 minutes, could take raw food stuffs and turn them into something divine.  Honestly, part of the draw might have been that my mom wasn’t a stellar cook (don’t worry, she’d be the first to tell you that), and that our regular meals weren’t quite as special as those I saw on the cooking shows. Even so, I readily absorbed how to make any number of meals from my mother, from the perfect hamburgers and potato salad to her much beloved sausage and peppers.

So why “ruin” it all by going vegetarian? Good question. It wasn’t planned, I can tell you that. But it was a swift choice, spurred by a senior-year school paper I did on animal testing, and one that I think came as something as a shock to my parents. It took them several years to get used to the fact that I wouldn’t be partaking in cook-outs and holiday meals in quite the same way as everyone else. And it was a tough choice to stick with. Outside of pasta and egg and cheese sandwiches, vegetarian options in the grocery stores then were scant. It took me plenty of time to get used to the texture of tofu and figure out how to cook it just right. The early days of pre-made veggie burgers were pretty horrible, as the offerings tasted more like garlicky sawdust than edible energy source. On the plus side, my intake of vegetables and fruit ramped up, and my latent, creative inner chef bloomed as I tried to figure out how to not eat pizza seven days a week. Going out to restaurants was also a challenge; and if I wasn’t headed to an Italian or Mexican restaurant, my choices were usually limited to boring salads. But while it royally sucked at times, my health and well-being actually improved over the first couple years, so that was a nice side effect.

And speaking of things that weren’t planned, me becoming attached to a carnivore was completely unforeseeable. But I knew things were probably going to work out when, on our first date, he didn’t totally recoil at the thought of being with someone who’d never consume another piece of bacon in her life. As we began spending more time together, combining our lives in the kitchen was probably one of the largest obstacles we had to overcome. It had been several years at that point time since I bought and cooked meat, but it wasn’t like I had complete forgotten my former life. I knew how it all worked, and he didn’t die the first time I made him a hamburger. I’ve since made him turkey dinners, shepard’s pie, bacon and eggs, beef burgundy, pan-seared tilapia…and yep…he’s still alive. And we’ve even integrated regular vegetarian meals into our dinner routine.

Over the years, I’ve had make plenty of adjustments in my kitchen. I’ll admit to having “meat-only” and “veggie-only” pots, pans, and utensils. I’ve learned to time out regular and vegetarian entrees so that they’re done at the same time. I’ve worked in a plethora of side dishes and desserts that we both can enjoy. I don’t mind making stuff that I can’t eat as long as the person on the other side of the table enjoys it. And therein lies the most important part of this whole veggie/non-veggie relationship:

Communication. 

With just about every meat meal I make, old or new, I’m constantly asking my husband (or whatever person/crowd I’m cooking for) how it tastes. Is it cooked right? Spiced well enough? Does it need more of this or that? I’ve retained enough from my meatatarian past, cooking shows, and cookbooks to know what seasonings go best with beef, chicken, and fish, but not being able to taste what I’m cooking is a challenge. My husband, friends, and family know this, and they’ve been exceedingly gracious during the times when I’ve gotten it wrong (I mean, like, really wrong; also, I’ll never, ever understand scallops), as well as exceedingly gracious (and sometimes surprised) when I get it really right.

I’d never want to totally forget how to cook meat. It’s not something I necessarily like dealing with (especially ground beef…it’s just so yucky), but as I said at the beginning of this rambly post, I really like cooking and learning how to cook new things, meat or otherwise. Nobody’s dead yet from my food, and that’s a trend I’d like to continue.

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Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.

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5 thoughts on “Going Vegetarian, Successes and Challenges”

  1. Foodie is 30-years old. It is a real word now and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to be one!

    In my past relationship, my girlfriend had a few health issues, so we had to vary what we cooked fairly often to match new diet-restrictions. I am a big proponent of cooking, so I personally love the opportunity to learn new flavor combinations and approaches.

    At the same time, I hate restricting myself so much. My family is super-carnivorous, but I prefer meat being a 1/3 of my meal not a half if I can help it. I also don’t mind eating entirely vegetarian meals, but I value vegetables + bacon fat too much to ever make the 100% leap.

    It is difficult too because ethically meat business is horrible, and it certainly can turn anyone off from eating it. I’ve tried to be a bit more conscious about what I buy, though I have to do so in an affordable manner. My biggest problem is the disconnect people have now from eating meat and the source. Frankly, if you would never be able to kill what you eat, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. To me, the carnivore must respect his prey.

    1. I totally agree with your last couple of sentences there, C. T. Murphy! That’s why I became a vegetarian a few years ago. I’ve since added fish to my diet, because that I could do — but killing animals in general is not something I could personally handle, and I think a lot of people are the same way but don’t think about it when they eat meat. Besides, these days we know what nutrients are in meat and other natural sources, so I figure I don’t need to eat animals the way people in the past did. Although I’m totally okay with people eating meat (and I’m actually the only pescatarian I know), I do hope that in the long run, society gives up eating meat. Like, maybe we could use a replicator. That would be a perfect solution!

      But to get back to the post… I think it is awesome that you are a vegetarian, Cary, and that you are also an open-minded chef who can still cook meat for your loved ones! And I do agree with you that one of the hardest things is finding something to eat in restaurants. Nothing is more frustrating than going out to eat with people and having like ONE option on the menu that doesn’t have meat.

      Plus, like you said, it’s fun to get creative with veggie dishes. But stir fry and fettuccine alfredo are my specialties — they got me through my first year of being vegetarian, and I still love them as quick, easy vegetarian meals!

      1. Growing up in rural America, I am a bit more familiar with where meat comes from. I do understand other’s views though.

        The main thing is the unsustainability of meat, for me. If I ever gave it up, that would be my reasoning.

      2. I agree with Mr. Murphy’s point that it can be hard to eat “good” meat on a budget. (Sorry, “good” meat sounds bad, but you know what I mean.) And actually, it can be hard to eat a sensible vegetarian diet on a budget too — fresh veggies get really expensive in the winter! (Though gardening in the summer helps even out the bills, I guess.) But I’ve found ways to stretch our food bills as much as possible. Ashley, you mentioned stir fry, that and curry dishes are a couple of the best ways I’ve found to get the most of our both veggie and non-veggie diets, and the primary meal tends to be vegetarian with meat cooked on the side. Plus, we can get at least two meals out of those dishes since you’re usually cooking in volume. (Also, rice goes a long way in filling anyone up!)

        We’ve both gotten more and more into learning about sustainable food sources over the past couple years, and we see a future where (red) meat become less and less of a staple in our house. We’d also love to get to a point where we’re gardening year-round, but that’s a subject for another post. 🙂

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